Safinenthal Baroque

I’m back in the Lautebrunnen valley of Switzerland, surely one of the most beautiful places on earth and a place many of you have been with me.  The weather is overcast but the air is fresh and clean, the sound of running water and cowbells are serenading me as I settle in for the evening.  I’ve just had one of Otto’s great “homestyle” meals (the one with the BEST mashed potatoes ever!) so I’m feeling sated and content.  Otto and Marianne of Hotel Stechelberg now greet me as a returning family member and it feels like home to be here.  After two years of working here in my twenties and two more winter seasons with Julie in our thirties, Switzerland almost feels like coming home.  The language sounds familiar (though I’m still pretty lost to understand the Swiss-German completely), the currency is familiar, and the farm and mountain smells are nostalgic.  The sounds and sight of the mountains are welcome and connote good feelings.  Its just great to be here.  I’m always in a good mood when I return. View back to Gimmelwald

But today I’m thinking of another time.  After dinner tonight I wasn’t ready to turn in so I started walking up one of the paths leading up from Stechelberg.  I passed several bubbling, chattering streams and was reminded of a hike I did years ago in the Safinenthal which leads away from Gimmlwald and wraps around toward the Schilthorn.  It was one of my earliest years of guiding, perhaps my third year.  It was a late spring tour and the sun was bright and hot as I trudged along the single track path surrounded by alpine


forests.  I think there had been lots of snow that winter because many patches remained and gained in area as I climbed up the valley floor.  I know it was spring because the snow was rapidly melting all around as I hiked.  The bright sun glittered and danced on the rushing streams that collected the runoff and glinted off the remaining ice.  I remember distinctly the dazzling visual experience but also the aural component as well.

Water, light, motion - a Baroque "bell composto"

While enjoying both sight and sound I had one of those ‘aha” moments in life when something you’ve learned or read suddenly comes into clear focus.  I had developed my talk on Baroque art for the Rome night walk and had shared with several groups the importance of light, action, and motion in that era.  I’d often made the point that moving water, in the form of Rome’s many fountains, was a perfect medium for Baroque - an artistic creation that actually moved, reflecting light in multiple varieties.  I certainly understood the concept I was explaining

Safinenthal stream

and the fountains were visible evidence of the theory.  But walking along that sunny spring day, I suddenly realized I was having a fundamentally Baroque experience.  The melting water, the chattering rivulets, the glinting sun, and the sparkling ice all combined to make a natural, almost symphonic, “bell composto” for me.  The uniquely Baroque method of combining many mediums into a single, beautiful expression was happening - in nature.  I remember what a thrilling moment it was.  Not only did my understanding of Baroque deepen in that

Melting ice

moment, but a sense of my ability to make intuitive leaps of comprehension about art also bumped up a notch.  It was one of those early moments when words couldn't express how lucky I felt to have my job.


Many years have passed and as in all endeavors in life, the ability to get truly excited about various aspects of my work has diminished and cynicism is a bigger obstacle.  But I’m happy to say I’m still quite satisfied and content, and though rarer, I can still be moved by experiences along the road - even familiar sections.  I had a glimpse of that walking along after dinner.  Nostalgia yes, but also the fullness of the mountain air and the sound of rushing water and tinkling cowbells working their timeless magic.

Safinenthal view